World's Strongest Insect Named

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Congratulations are now in order for the dung beetle Onthophagus

taurus, which has just been named the world's strongest insect, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B

Human

bodybuilders may pump iron, but these brawniest of bugs lift poop and each

other.

(Two males of this species comparing horns. Credit: Alex Wild)

Rob Knell from Queen Mary, University

of London and Leigh Simmons from the University of Western

Australia found that the strongest of these beetles could pull 1,141

times its own body weight. That's equivalent to a person lifting close to 180,000 pounds (the same as six full double-decker buses).

Like all elite athletes, these insects must watch their diets too, although their choice of food turns human stomachs. The researchers discovered that if even the strongest male individuals didn't eat much you-know-what over a period of about a few days they were reduced to weaklings. 

The beetle's strength, however, is mostly due to battles over desired females.

"Insects are well known for being able to

perform amazing feats of strength," explained Knell, "and it's all on account of

their curious sex lives. Female beetles of this species dig tunnels

under a dung pat, where males mate with them. If a male enters a tunnel

that is already occupied by a rival, they fight by locking horns and try

to push each other out.”

The scientists tested the beetle's ability

to resist rivals by measuring how much weight was needed to pull a male beetle

out of his hole.

"Interestingly, some male dung beetles don’t

fight over females," said Knell. "They are smaller, weaker and don’t

have horns like the larger males. Even when we fed them up they didn't

grow stronger, so we know it's not because they have a poorer diet."

He added, "They did, however, develop substantially bigger testicles for their

body size. This suggests they sneak behind the back of the other male,

waiting until he's looking the other way for a chance to mate with the

female. Instead of growing super strength to fight for a female, they

grow lots more sperm to increase their chances of fertilizing her eggs

and fathering the next generation."